Human Rights Expert Sounds Alarm Over Israeli Firm’s ‘Dystopian’ Video-Altering Tech

“A scenario in which someone is accused of something and doesn’t know if the evidence presented against them is real or not is truly dystopian.”

By Kenny Stancil.  Published 12-27-2022 by Common Dreams

Leon Panetta and Ehud Barak at the Pentagon in 2012. Photo: US Secretary of Defense/flickr

A human rights attorney raised alarm Monday over the expansion plans of Toka, an Israeli cyber firm that sells hacking technologies capable of finding, accessing, and manipulating security and smart camera footage.

Co-founded by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) cyber chief Yaron Rosen, Toka “sells technologies that allow clients to locate security cameras or even webcams within a given perimeter, hack into them, watch their live feed, and even alter it—and past recordings,” Haaretz reported, citing internal documents it obtained and reviewed with a technical expert.

The company, whose activities are overseen by the Israeli Defense Ministry, “was set up in 2018 and has offices in Tel Aviv and Washington,” Haaretz reported. “It works solely with state clients in government, intelligence bodies, and law enforcement agencies, almost exclusively—but not just—in the West. According to the internal documents, as of 2021, the company had contracts with Israel valued at $6 million, and had also planned an ‘expansion of existing deployment’ in Israel.”

Toka can tap into web-connected cameras found virtually everywhere—intersections, parking lots, malls, hotels, airports, and even homes. Haaretz compared the firm’s “cyberoffense” capabilities to the 2001 heist movie Ocean’s Eleven.

In that film, an “elite crew led by George Clooney and Brad Pitt hack the closed-circuit TV system of the Las Vegas casino vault they are trying to break into, diverting its feed to a mock safe they built in a nearby warehouse,” the outlet noted.

Haaretz continued:

Twenty years on, this is no longer the stuff of movies: Toka’s tech allows clients to do just that and more—not just diverting a live feed but also altering old feeds and erasing any evidence of a covert op.
Technical documents reviewed by an ethical hacker prove that Toka’s tech can alter both live and recorded video feeds—all without leaving any forensics or telltale signs of a hack (in contrast to NSO’s Pegasus spyware, or Intellexa’s Predator, which leave a digital fingerprint on targeted devices).

“These are capabilities that were previously unimaginable,” human rights lawyer Alon Sapir told the outlet. “This is a dystopian technology from a human rights perspective. Just its mere existence raises serious questions.”

“One can imagine video being manipulated to incriminate innocent citizens or shield guilty parties that are close to the system, or even just manipulative editing for ideological or even political purposes should it fall into the wrong hands,” said Sapir.

From a legal perspective, “intelligence collection is a sensitive issue,” Sapir explained. “Despite a lack of legislation, the police deploy mass surveillance means they may not be fully authorized to use: technology like the HawkEye system, which no one knew about until the media revealed its existence.”

While manipulated videos are inadmissible as evidence in Israeli courts, Sapir noted that “a scenario in which someone is accused of something and doesn’t know if the evidence presented against them is real or not is truly dystopian. The current law does not begin to address situations like these.”

People living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are especially vulnerable to abuse.

“Take for example the Blue Wolf facial recognition technology, used by the IDF to keep track of Palestinians,” said Sapir. “The West Bank is Israel’s defense establishment testing ground—and a scenario in which Toka’s tech is deployed unbeknownst to anyone is simply terrifying.”

“There have been cases in which video evidence helped refute false claims made by settlers and soldiers, and helped save innocent Palestinians from jail,” he added. “We’ve also seen cases in which video evidence has been tampered with in the past.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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